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Nunavik Art Alive - Artist Profiles - Henry Napartuk

Henry Napartuk (1932–1985)

ROOTS

Lived in Kuujjuaraapik.

WHEN AND HOW HE GOT STARTED

Napartuk learned how to carve from his father, Josie, who was one of the community’s earliest sculptors. He began making prints after Noah Meeko, his brother-in-law, and Noah’s wife, Lucy Meeko, returned from a seven week workshop held in Puvirnituq in 1972. The couple were trained in various printmaking techniques and returned to Kuujjuaraapik with the intention of spreading their knowledge and perhaps setting up a print shop in their own community. Under the tutelage of the Meekos, Napartuk produced several pieces for the Arctic Québec print collection of 1973. He showed great promise and was singled out in the preamble of the Arctic Québec 1973 print release catalogue:

There is a similarity of styles among the Arctic Quebec printmakers; however certain distinct talents are emerging. Henry Napartuk of Great Whale River is one such talent. An outstanding sculptor, Henry Napartuk learned the technique of printmaking from Lucy and Noah Meeko. His first prints were tentative emulations of their style but as he became more sure of himself in the new medium, there was a sudden, dramatic emergence into the bold style of the Studies in this collection. Ironically, his style is now dominating the Meekos’, who are also turning to abstract expression (Myers [Mitchell] 1973).

MEDIA

Although best known as a sculptor and printmaker, Napartuk also created several ivory rings and trinkets for the exhibition Things Made By Inuit, which toured to 10 different Inuit communities in 1980.

SIGNIFICANT ACHIEVEMENTS

Throughout the late 1970s and early 80s, Napartuk participated in several national snow sculpting competitions held in Quebec. In 1982, Napartuk travelled to Cortina d’Amezzo, Italy to participate in an international snow sculpting competition. His works have been featured in numerous exhibitions at the international level and are held in notable collections such as that of the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Winnipeg Art Gallery, the Canadian Museum of Civilization, the Glenbow Museum, and the Royal Ontario Museum.

ARTISTIC DEVELOPMENT

While Napartuk has also created naturalistic representations of hunters and animals, the real strength of his work lies within his abstract multi-directional compositions. Unlike many carvers throughout Nunavik, who worked largely within a classic form of realism, Napartuk had been experimenting with abstract forms since the late 1960s. Uniquely, he tended toward the fantastic and created bizarre compositions in which humanistic and animalistic elements morphed into one. When asked to create a series of prints for the Arctic Québec 1973 print release, he drew upon imagery from his earlier carvings and translated many of these compositions onto paper — sometimes literally. Some of these translations are more direct than others and are especially evident when one compares pieces such as the sculptural work titled Pendant (1968, now in the Winnipeg Art Gallery’s Zazelenchuk collection) and his print titled Study (1972, featured in Arctic Quebec 1973). After the mid-1970s, Napartuk turned his attention mainly to sculpture and sometimes drew upon his print work for inspiration (see the stencil A Happy Fish, 1973 and the sculpture in black stone titled Shaman, circa 1976).

FIRST GAINED ATTENTION

Although Napartuk’s carvings were featured in public exhibitions as early as 1966, he did not garner significant attention until 1971, when one of his pieces was chosen for inclusion in the groundbreaking touring exhibition Sculpture/Inuit: Masterworks of the Canadian Arctic Council.

REFERENCES

Mitchell, Marybelle

1998 “Making Art in Nunavik: A Brief Historical Overview,” Inuit Art Quarterly, vol.13, no.3 (Fall): 4–17.

Myers [Mitchell], Marybelle

1972 Arctic Quebec. Montreal: La Fédération des Coopératives du Nouveau-Québec.
1973 “Preface,” Arctic Quebec I and II Print Collections. Montreal: La Fédération des Coopératives du Nouveau-Québec.